In our march towards development, we are increasingly adopting American-style capitalism. Just look at our fast changing political, business & social cultures, all being significantly influenced by America.
Capitalism is perhaps the best proven system we know to lift ourselves out of poverty. But in our hurry to become a developed nation, if we don’t safeguard ourselves, we will also import the ills of American-style capitalism. A few decades later, we may find ourselves fighting similar or advanced versions of issues America is grappling with now.
Alternatively, we can learn from how many other countries have adapted capitalism to suit their needs. Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, China & Singapore – all are capitalist societies, based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. But Netherlands, for example, runs a different variety of capitalism compared to, say, China or Singapore.
Lets look at a few potential hazards for India
Abusive consumerism. All indians have taken to consuming more & more, like there’s no tomorrow. The insatiable consumption & demand for more goods and services is very American. American capitalism is largely driven by the gargantuan appetite of the private sector to make & accumulate wealth, with almost no concern for the harmful effects of unrestricted consumerism. American consumers, seduced by advertising, have obediently increased their nonstop desires & needs over the decades.
The harmful effects of unbridled consumerism on the individual, society, & environment are well-known. Many great Indians in the past have warned us against addictive desires & needs. Why do Indians need to own multiple houses? Why do we need 2 televisions in the house & some more in our SUVs? How can we enrich our experiences, rather than consuming more goods & services? What can the government & public institutions do to help us against ourselves?
Inevitable inequality. America, despite its wealth, is a very unequal society. Poverty and exploitation are common. Through their dependency on private enterprise to develop themselves, America has failed to take care of its downtrodden citizens. America’s development has been driven by private wealth creation and some redistribution & reallocation of wealth by the government. But its clear that while some sections of the American society have become significantly wealthy, a vast majority of americans have been left behind. America is now battling the evils of inequality and that’s proving to be a difficult problem to solve because of vested wealthy interests.
As India develops, we need to study other countries which have practiced a more benign version of capitalism. Look at countries like Netherlands & Norway which have balanced development & social welfare well. While they are not perfect, such examples will help us evolve our own style of capitalism, rather than largely copying America and falling prey to the associated evils.
Loss of our culture. Kids & young adults in India today know more about american culture than our own. They look up at american icons as role models, eat american food, wear american clothes, etc. While some aspects of american culture are indeed worthy of a closer look (eg. the start-up culture), large-scale adoption of american culture & customs, especially at the cost of our own vast & rich culture, has to be questioned. With more Indians moving to cities and our style of urbanization more closely resembling America, the threat is real.
If our government, public institutions & individuals don’t think hard about these issues, our present style of capitalism will lead us towards American-style gains & pains.
(The style of capitalism adopted is also closely linked to the political governance system, whether it’s a democracy, liberal democracy, authoritarian, or a social welfare state. But thats a different discussion)